As New Year’s 1788 approached, two Orthodox Christians visiting from London arrived at Mount Vernon to visit George and Martha Washington. This married couple, who were to spend the next few days with the retired General, were an unusual pair with unique transatlantic connections.
The husband, John Paradise, spoke ancient and modern Greek, Latin, Turkish, French, Italian, and English and was born in Salonica, Greece. The wife, Lucy Ludwell Paradise, was born near Williamsburg, Virginia, had lived most of her life in London, and was probably the first cradle Orthodox Christian in America. She also shared a great-grandmother with Martha Washington’s children.
So how did John and Lucy Ludwell Paradise end up as guests of the Washingtons? The answer lies with the Ludwell family’s long-standing connections with many of the Founding Fathers – connections which also explain why the Washingtons weren’t the Paradises’ only eminent hosts during their 1787-88 sojourn in America.
Who Were Lucy and John Paradise?
Lucy Ludwell Paradise was born in 1752 at Green Spring, the Ludwell family’s Williamsburg-area plantation since the late 1600s. At that time, her father, Philip Ludwell III, had been a member of the Virginia colony’s Council of State – a body of twelve landed gentry that served as the upper house of the colony’s Assembly, as an advisory body to the royal governor, and as the colony’s highest court. Ludwell was also the first known American convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.
After the death of her mother in the late 1750s, Lucy moved to London with her father and two older sisters in 1760, where all three daughters were received into the Orthodox Church. In London, the Ludwells became friends with the Paradise family.
Peter Paradise was British consul in Salonica and had married a half-Greek woman. Their son John Paradise was educated in Italy. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1771 and counted Thomas Jefferson as a friend, assisting Jefferson with his study of the Greek language. Although a resident of London, John Paradise took his oath of allegiance to the United States before Benjamin Franklin in Paris, in 1780. 1
The Paradises Visit Virginia With Some Help from Jefferson
After the American Revolution, Lucy and John Paradise set out to visit America and inspect the lands they had inherited from Lucy’s father, Philip Ludwell III. It was to be the first time Lucy had seen Virginia since she was a child in 1760, and the first time Paradise had ever been to America. The couple were considering relocating to Virginia for good.
Prior to their trip, Thomas Jefferson, who had befriended the couple in London when he visited John and Abigail Adams during his tenure as the American Minister to France, gave legal and practical advice to the Paradises concerning their affairs in Virginia, even reassuring John Paradise concerning Paradise’s fear of the thunderstorms in America.
Jefferson provided the Paradises introductions to numerous individuals in Virginia. Arriving in Williamsburg in late September 1787, Lucy must have been disappointed in the dilapidated state of her father’s Green Spring mansion, which her brother-in-law William Lee now owned. In Williamsburg, Paradise’s stature as a scholar and man of learning made him an agreeable personality. He immediately became friends with the eminent jurist George Wythe and with Charles Bellini, Professor of Modern Languages. Paradise was also admitted to the Board of Visitors of the College of William & Mary.
While in the Williamsburg area, they would have visited their properties which included Rich Neck and Archer’s Hope near the College and Chippokes, south of the James River.
John and Lucy Paradise Visit Washington at Mount Vernon
Late in 1787 the Paradises traveled north, where they spent four days with George and Martha Washington over New Year’s. After writing “Thermometer at 34 in the morning,” Washington’s diary of December 30 tells us that “abt 11 o’clock Mr. Paradise and his Lady lately from England but now of Williamsburgh came” to Mount Vernon. 2
According to Shepperson:
“Apparently Washington found the society of Mr. and Mrs. Paradise agreeable, for instead of going about his affairs as he usually did even when guests were in the house, he records that he stayed at home during the whole of their visit.” 3
While it was a common practice for even notable personalities like Washington and Jefferson to entertain houseguests for days at a time, we should remember that Washington probably recalled a time when he had been the recipient of Lucy’s father’s goodwill. In the 1750s, when he was in his twenties, Washington visited Philip Ludwell’s Green Spring home outside Williamsburg. During that decade, Ludwell was a prominent member of the Council working with Lt. Gov. Dinwiddie, helping fund and organize British and American military efforts in the French and Indian War.
Washington would have recalled the difficult days of 1755 when he was intimately involved in British General Braddock’s defeat at the hands of the French and their Indian allies. In the aftermath of this military disaster, which took Braddock’s life, Philip Ludwell wrote Washington from Williamsburg in early August:
“I most heartily congratulate your safe return from so many Dangers & Fatigues & by this Time I hope you are well enough recovered to give us the pleasure of seeing you here which all your Friends are extremely desirous of.
The House has voted 1200 Men but it is very probable they will determine at last for 4000. In Conversation with the Govr about it, I said if this should be done, I supposed his Honour woud give the Command of them to Col: Washington for I thought he deserved every thing that his Country cou’d do for him.” 4
Aside from Washington’s experience with Ludwell decades earlier, why else would Washington have welcomed the Paradises?
One reason may have been the Paradises’ first-hand knowledge of England and Europe. As 1788 began, the individual states in America were deliberating over whether to ratify the new Constitution that had been produced by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia just three months earlier. At the time of the Paradises’ visit, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey had ratified the Constitution. One year later, the first presidential election was held, electing Washington as President under the new law.
Aside from their experience of Europe, the Paradises would have been able to inform Washington of sentiment regarding the proposed Constitution in other parts of Virginia. In their own family there was disagreement. Lucy’s first cousins were the Lee brothers, who were raised at Stratford Hall in Virginia. Two of the brothers, Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, were Signers of the Declaration of Independence. While they had agreed on the Declaration, they disagreed on the new Constitution: Richard Henry opposed ratification, while Francis was for it. Lucy’s first cousin and brother-in-law William Lee, now resident at Green Spring, was against the new Constitution.
Also at Mount Vernon at the time were two people familiar to the Paradises. The first, David Humphreys, a Revolutionary War veteran, had been a secretary to John Adams during Adams’ tenure as Minister to Great Britain and had experienced the Paradises’ hospitality during his time in London. The second was Charles Lee, a cousin to Lucy Ludwell Paradise, who later served as United States Attorney General from 1795 until 1801 and Secretary of State ad interim for a short time in 1800.
The Paradises’ stay ended on January 2. According to Washington, “Col. Humphreys and myself accompanied Mr. Paradise and his lady to Alexandria [where we] dined with Mr. Charles Lee and returned in the evening less Mr. and Mrs. Paradise.” 5
A Paradise Family Tragedy and Their Return to London
When the Paradises returned to their brother-in-law William Lee at Green Spring, they received bad news: A letter from their young nephew Thomas Lee Shippen in London reported that their second daughter, the teenaged Philippa, had unexpectedly died at her boarding house in London. While their first impulse was to return immediately to London, the grieving couple stayed in America, traveling north through Philadelphia to visit old friends and family before returning to Europe from New York.
Lucy and John Paradise’s sojourn in Philadelphia and New York in 1788 included visits with the aged Benjamin Franklin; Lucy’s first cousin Alice Lee Shippen and her husband Dr. William Shippen, formerly chief surgeon for the Continental Army; John Jay, one of the chief representatives of the United States during negotiations for independence in Paris; Abigail Smith Adams, formerly a London neighbor; and General and Mrs. Henry Knox, among others. This portion of their trip will be the subject of a future Ludwell Blog article. 6
The Paradises’ 1787-88 visit to the United States was emblematic of both the Paradises’ and Philip Ludwell III’s numerous friendships with Americans in the eighteenth century. At a moment when the United States was seriously considering its future direction under a new Constitution, the meeting between the Paradises and Washingtons calls to mind a time earlier in the century when their families were intimately involved in the political, military, and societal affairs of late colonial America.
- Founders Online, To Benjamin Franklin from John Paradise, 2 October 1780 https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-33-02-0300.
- Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, https://www.loc.gov/resource/mgw1b.873
- Archibald Bolling Shepperson, John Paradise and Lucy Ludwell of London and Williamsburg, The Dietz Press, Richmond, Virginia, 1942, p. 290.
- Founders Online, To George Washington From Philip Ludwell, 8 August 1755, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-01-02-0180.
- Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, https://www.loc.gov/resource/mgw1b.873
- Shepperson, p. 298.